20 August 2009

When to Stone Your Whole Family

OK, I admit it. I stole the title from the Brick Testament.

But the Brick Testament pretty much stole it from the Bible, so I guess it all works out OK.

Deuteronomy 13 gets my vote for the worst chapter in the Bible. But before we get into it, let's look at its context.

The last verse of chapter 12 says this.

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. Deuteronomy 12:32

The person who is supposedly talking here is God, and he says to do whatever he says, exactly as he says, no more and no less.

And what does he say to do immediately after this verse? Three things.

  1. Kill any prophet or dreamer of dreams. Even if they have cool signs and wonders. (Like Jesus.)
    If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder ... that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death. Deuteronomy 13:1-5

  2. Kill your family if they have religious beliefs that differ from your own. (Like that crazy aunt of yours who's a Jehovah's Witness.)
    If thy brother ... or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods ... Thou shalt not consent unto him ... neither shall thine eye pity him ... But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Deuteronomy 13:6-10

  3. Kill everyone in every city that has citizens that believe differently than you. (Like Salt Lake City.)
    If thou shalt hear ... men ... saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known ... Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. Deuteronomy 13:12-17

But I'd like to focus on God's second command in Deuteronomy 13: When to Stone Your Whole Family.

If thy brother ... or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods ... Thou shalt not consent unto him ... neither shall thine eye pity him. Deuteronomy 13:6-8

But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death. Deuteronomy 13:8-9

and afterwards the hand of all the people. Deuteronomy 13:9

So God commands us all to stone to death, without pity, our wife, husband, son, daughter, brother, sister, or friend, if they have religious beliefs that are different from our own. (Our own beliefs are the correct beliefs, of course.)

And God said immediately before these verses that "what thing soever I command you, observe to do it."

Is there a believer that follows God's command in Deuteronomy 13:6-10? Or who thinks it's a good idea but is too chicken to do it? Or that was a good idea back in the day but isn't so good now?

Is there a believer who thinks this command was really given by, or at least inspired by, God? Or that God had anything to do with it?

Is there a believer who is not deeply ashamed that this passage is in the Bible?

If so, I'd love to hear about it.


Baconsbud said...

These are all interesting verses. I am figuring you will get the standard christian answer that the verses of the OT no longer apply.

Brendan said...

That second passage you mentioned (which seems to be the main focus here) was screwed over by a scribal error. The oldest copies of the text (250 BCE or so) read "but report it" instead of "take that person's life". So the idea that people went around stoning family members isn't true.

Steve Wells said...

Oh, the old scribal error excuse, eh Brendan? How imaginative of you.

So every existing translation of this passage is in error. Is that what you're saying?

Do you have a reference for the "correct" reading of Deuteronomy 13:6-10?

Brendan said...

Sure do. Page 1265 of the Union For Reform Judaism's Modern Commentary on the Torah.

"A number of scholar's, following the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint), emend [Hebrew text]:
'But report it'."

Steve Wells said...

OK. Do you have a link to any translation of Deuteronomy 13:6-10 that says "report it" instead of "Thou shalt not consent unto him ... neither shall thine eye pity him. But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die" -- or words to that effect.

I don't care what "Union For Reform Judaism's Modern Commentary on the Torah" says. I don't want a commentary; I want a translation. You know the difference, don't you, Brendan?

Every translation in the Blue Letter Bible (a dozen or so) says to stone to death your family, without pity, casting the first stone yourself. Do you know of any translation that says "report it"?

Unknown said...

This blog rocks !!!
I am delighted to to see those horrible bible verses exposed so explicitly, very, very cool !!

Keep up the good work !!!

By the way, if this is a translation error, how much more errors must be in there which we do not know , distorting "god's word?"???

busterggi said...

Of course the modern reform Jews want to create another meaning for the words. They're even more embarrassed than modern Christians.

Matthew Blanchette said...

I recently watched an episode of CSI where a dangerous health cure was being promoted with a Biblical verse; when a character claimed it was a "perversion of the Bible", I laughed hysterically, thinking, "Check out verses like this, then come and tell me it's a perversion!"

Also, there's a rather nice passage I think one should follow in this case, even if you don't believe in the Bible (I don't): He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.

Anonymous said...

Brendan doesn't seem fully aware of what the text to which he appeals says. While the Septuagint translation of Deut 13:10 does begin with the participle αναγγελων ("reporting"), rather than the Hebrew הרג ("to kill"), the verse later commands the individual to αποκτειναι αυτον ("kill him").

The context of Deuteronomy here must be understood, though. These requirements were composed in the seventh century BCE, when Assyria was reigning over the Ancient Near East with the original iron fist. This law was an editorial against the Assyrian ideology of kingship, and it was far more tame than contemporary law codes. Restrictions were placed on the hegemony of Israelite kings in an attempt to belittle Assyrian practices, like destroying all the trees in a conquered land. Among the law codes of the day, this was one of the most conservative.

It's also quite a presentistic fallacy to insist these requirement were inappropriate for that time period, or that they manifest an intrinsically immoral worldview. They had a different "social contract," so to speak. The Ancient Near East was also made up of warrior cultures, and this kind of rhetoric was really the standard. I understand that it grates against the nerves of most modern cultures, but that really has no bearing on the legitimacy of these law codes for ancient Israel.

If the intent of this blog is to insist that these kinds of laws undermine a belief in a righteous or worthy deity, then it should be understood that these criticisms only apply to the most fundamental Christian perspectives. Many religious folk believe that God grants a degree of agency to the population of the world that influences the filters which separate their deity's morality from the requirements imposed upon mankind. At the same time, many intelligent religious folk also recognize the human influence exercised over the composition of the entire Bible, Hebrew and Christian. Most of the propaganda within it comes from humanity, not from deity. The history of Deuteronomy ought to make it clear enough that modern and naive finger wagging really doesn't succeed in indicting the God of the Hebrew Bible, whether he was the author of this text or not.

Steve Wells said...


"The history of Deuteronomy ought to make it clear enough that modern and naive finger wagging really doesn't succeed in indicting the God of the Hebrew Bible, whether he was the author of this text or not."

Really? God might (or might not have) commanded his followers to stone to death any family or friends that believe in a different god, but that wouldn't indict the God of the Hebrew Bible (who might or might not exist).

What the hell would, danielo?

Brendan said...

If you actually read my post, I was citing a passage from commentary that was citing an early copy of the text.

I quoted the following:
"A number of scholar's, following the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint), emend [Hebrew text]:
'But report it'."

To put it in blunt terms:
Many scholars translate it as "report it" because the Septuagint, one of the earliest discovered copies of the text, says "report it".

Now, perhaps I wasn't too clear on this. If you manage to find the text of the Septuagint in English (It's doable), it does say that they are executed, and the one who reports it casts the first stone. I was actually wondering when someone would point that out. I'm objecting to the idea presented in The Brick Testament that if someone came up to you and said "Let's worship Baal", you would kill them right on the spot.

Danielo is actually in a way, correct. Take a look at what Devarim (Deuteronomy) begins with. G-d isn't talking, it's Moses. The approach here is basically "Well, G-d may not have inspired the bit at all, since G-d doesn't talk in Devarim until the end. Moses was a great man, but still a tribal man and limited by his time."
This, IMO, is kind of weak. The only thing in Devarim I actually think that works for is that line about the girl who claims to be a virgin but isn't, since was common in that time for societies to have a taboo on female premarital sex. Although, I suppose it could work for this bit as well, since Moses was a bit angry and paranoid in his old age (I think that makes him seem more realistic and human).
Now, in response to the real issue here: Have you ever seen Defiance? There's a scene where a man is stepping out of line, abusing his power, and challenging authority. It becomes clear that the man needs to be killed, because he endangers the survival of the entire group. The protagonist kills him. It's the same idea (the movie is based on a true story).
The people were rebellious. Harsh measures were needed to keep them in line. Because religion was, in most cases, nation specific, worshiping other gods was the equivalent of defecting to an enemy nation. I know it seems primitive to execute someone due to treachery, but these are tribal people we're talking about. The reason why it specifically mentions family members is because family is so highly valued in the Jewish religion.
Obviously, this beckons another question: Isn't that kind of like the Red scare? In a way, yes. However, in order to execute someone in this time period, 2 witnesses were needed. In any case, the passage is no longer relevant, since the Jewish high courts banned the death penalty long ago. The idea is not that we pick and choose the passages we believe. The principles are still the same, the punishments are not.
I also stumbled upon some interesting information regarding the destruction of an apostate town. Over 70 judges were needed, and the town could not be destroyed if there were a single "believer" in it.

I have never been "embarrassed" by a Bible story. I'm very upfront with people about them. This is because being embarrassed by them solves absolutely nothing. Because of my faith in G-d, I'm convinced that if I search hard enough, there is an answer to every single item on the SAB's list of cruelty, intolerance, etc. Of course, the fact that I'm both very busy and very lazy prevents me from working through the list one-by-one (it took me over 2 days to write this shitty response). Since the "Insults to homosexuals" list was pretty short, I looked that over and determined that, at least in the OT, there's no actual insults to homosexuals.

busterggi said...

Brendan, if you weren't embarassed by these stories you wouldn't feel you have to work so hard to make excuses for them, you'd just accept them or blow them off as meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Steve said:

"Really? God might (or might not have) commanded his followers to stone to death any family or friends that believe in a different god, but that wouldn't indict the God of the Hebrew Bible (who might or might not exist).

What the hell would, danielo?"

If you could show that stoning family members who believed in a different God was an immoral action within that worldview. I don't believe it was, and I don't believe you can even begin to support the assertion that it was. You can appeal emotively to contemporary sensitivities, but I see no indication you have anything deeper than a passing familiarity with the socio-religious history of the ancient Near East.

Steve Wells said...


The people of the ancient Near East may have thought it was a grand and glorious thing to stone to death their family and friends if they believed in the wrong god. If so, the God of the Bible agrees with them. I don't. Do you?

If you think it's a good idea to stone to death family and friends for having religiously incorrect beliefs, then you might like the Bible. If not (and you are an honest person), you won't.

Anonymous said...


Of course I don't, but you and I both live in an entirely different world than they did. If I were a Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age nomad/pastoralist I would have a different idea about morality, as would you. Your assertions are still loaded with those reductive and presentistic fallacies.

I like the Bible for a number of different reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with its morality, and to insist that disagreement with Late Bronze Age morality precludes understanding and appreciating its literature, legal system, and traditions is just phenomenally myopic.

Steve Wells said...


So you don't believe that God inspired the words of Deuteronomy 13:6-10? Do you think God had anything to do with them?

If not, then I guess we agree on pretty much everything, at least as far as this topic goes, including:

1) The Bible has great literary value, but it was not inspired by God (in fact, God had nothing to do with it).

2) The ancient Near East people should not be faulted for their moral views (even if they included doing as Dt.13:6-10 commands).

3) It would be wrong to stone to death friends and family for their religious beliefs, and a good God would never command anyone (including ancient Near East people) to do such a thing.

I'm glad we worked all that out.

Anonymous said...


I don't think that portion of Deuteronomy is inspired. Regarding (1), however, I hope you're not insisting that if one rejects the inspired nature of one passage of scripture they then reject the inspired nature of the entire Bible. I don't believe Deuteronomy was written by God. That doesn't mean I don't think God had a hand in it at all, but I find the Deuteronomistic reforms to be one of the most humanistic aspects of the early Israelite tradition.

I agree with (2), but then you directly contradict it by averring in (3) that their moral view, in this case, is wrong. Once again, you have no basis at all for your judgment there save your own uninformed and subjective opinion. You don't know very much about that world, and you're more than happy to retroject whatever presentistic worldview is necessary for you to support your a priori thesis. That's poor scholarship no matter who you are, and I'll thank you not to pretend to patronize me.

Steve Wells said...


So God didn't inspire Deuteronomy 13:6-10, but he did inspire other parts of Deuteronomy? How about Deuteronomy 25:11-12. Did God have a hand in that? Which bits of the Bible did God inspire?

Of course their moral view was wrong. It is wrong always and everywhere for anyone to stone to death family and friends (or anyone else) for their religious beliefs. But not everyone with a faulty moral view is at fault. The people living in the ancient Near East didn't know any better; we do.

Oh, and danielo, I am not pretending to patronize you. I am patronizing you.

Anonymous said...


I don't presume to know what individual verses were and were not inspired by God and to what degree, but I do have a solid grasp on the historico- and socio-religious backdrop of those texts. You don't appear to, and you're being incredibly dogmatic, which is why you're leaning so heavily on presupposition and fallacy. You're also making rather naive assumptions about the nature of morality through history.

You've given me no reason to believe that you're open to subjecting your opinions to critical and objective evaluation, so I'm not going to waste any more of my time trying to help you see things a little more clearly.

Baconsbud said...

danielomcclellan you say you don't believe parts of the bible are inspired by god but how do you know which are and aren't? Is it one of those deals where it doesn't seem right in my eyes so it isn't inspired or did some other being tell you which are and aren't.

Markus Arelius said...

Steve, keep up the great work. These responses from believers defending this shit is just priceless.

You keep looking for some semblance of reason and common sense, but people have "faith" in this God, they love him, and can't wait to sing odes to his greatness for eternity when they get to the amusement park in the sky.

Judging from Deutonomy, is God managing an amusement park or something entirely different?

Unknown said...

According to Danielo, embarrassing parts of the Biblie were not inspired by god, easy uh ?

So, how can we trust the rest of it ?

The question here is: Of course the notion of morality was different at that time. Of course men at that age wrote stuff which might be shocking today.

The question here is, God approving it.

God is supposed to know everything, the past and the future, so, he would know his "perfect word" would be used by people 4000 years latter, and he did not anything to fix this.

Anonymous said...


I begin with the assumption that everything is the work of humanity, and I only change my mind if I'm given a reason to. Even if I do come to believe something is inspired, I also recognize that no text from the Bible is free from human influence.

Anonymous said...


Deuteronomy is an attempt to rewrite Israelite law, provide propaganda for ideological reforms of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, and provide polemic against the aggressive Assyrian empire. It is not "God managing an amusement park." I suggest you actually read Deuteronomy and what real scholars have said about it rather than just suckle sporadically at the teet of online hate-mongering.

Anonymous said...


I don't really know why something in the Bible would be considered "embarrassing." I didn't write any of it, and none of it embarrasses me. I understand that the particular brand of cynicism being hawked on this website has a certain impression to cultivate vis-a-vis those who grant the Bible a degree of historical or ideological authority, but there's no need to be juvenile about it.

On the rest of your post, I don't see God's name anywhere in the copyright portion of the Bible, and I don't think he was given final proofs to sign off on before it was published. The Bible is a text composed by humans. The degree to which it may or may not have been inspired by God is not something that can be established, nor can it be refuted with undereducated caricatures like those on this blog. Like I said in my first post, these criticism only stick with the most fundamental of religionists, irrespective of your cheerleading.

Baconsbud said...

danielomcclellan If I understand you correctly, you basically take the things that suit your view of what the truth is and see those as inspired. Doesn't that suggest that all religion is human based and in no way the actual truth? I figure if we could easily do the research on how people from 100 years ago viewed the bible, we would find they saw parts of it that were inspired that you say was written by man and uninspired. I'm not talking about the church leaders but the average people of 1909.

In another post on this blog you said "Deuteronomy is an attempt to rewrite Israelite law, provide propaganda for ideological reforms of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, and provide polemic against the aggressive Assyrian empire.", what is your source for this?

Anonymous said...


No, that's not at all how I see things. Regarding your second paragraph, my source is my own research with the Pentateuch, and specifically with the book of Deuteronomy. In addition to working with the primary texts, I've consulted dozens of academic books and articles. I don't think listing them all here is going to make a difference.

Baconsbud said...


It wouldn't be a waste of time unless you believe better understanding the point or claim someone has made is a bad thing. Now I will agree that it probably won't change my mind about what I believe is the reality of life but it would possibly give me a better understanding of where you are coming from.

Anonymous said...


I'm coming from a critical academic perspective. I have a degree in ancient Near Eastern studies and am currently a graduate student in Jewish studies. My areas of specialization include early Israelite religion, textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, and Pentateuchal studies. If you want a brief bibliography of some of the research I've been conducting on the Pentateuch and the ideology of Deuteronomy, here is a partial list from one paper:

Mullen, E. Theodore, Jr. The Assembly of the Gods. Harvard Monographs 24; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1980.

Gnuse, Robert Karl. No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel. Supplement to the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 241; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Heiser, Michael. “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible.” Bulletin of Biblical Research 18.1 (2008): 1–30.

Pope, Marvin H. El in the Ugaritic Texts. Supplement to Vetus Testamentum 2; Leiden: Brill, 1955.

Albright, William F. “Some Remarks on the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy XXXII .” Vetus Testamentum 9.4 (1959): 339–41.

Garr, W. Randall. In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, and Monotheism. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 15; Leiden, Brill, 2003.

Ringgren, Helmer. Israelite Religion. Translated by David E. Green; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Writings from the Ancient World 10; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002.

Block, Daniel I. The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2000.

Van der Toorn, Karel, Editor. The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Rise of Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology 21; Leuven: Peeters, 1997.

Sanders, Paul. The Provenance of Deuteronomy 32. Oudtestamentlische Studiën 37; Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Watson, Rebecca S. Chaos Uncreated: A Reassessment of the Theme of “Chaos” in the Hebrew Bible. Biehefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 341; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005.

busterggi said...

The old 'argument from authority' play.

Anything other than admit cherry-picking.

Anonymous said...


Way off base. I made no mention of my authority until I was directly asked where I was "coming from." If you wish to take issue with my argument then I'll thank you to engage it directly and not hide behind illegitimate accusations of fallacy.

v_quixotic said...

I think Daniel's pointing out that "Deuteronomy is an attempt to rewrite Israelite law, provide propaganda for ideological reforms of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, and provide polemic against the aggressive Assyrian empire." is very useful to the anti-theist cause. It sites the text in very human business and a particular social and historical context.

For me, the best conclusion to draw is that this text, and the rest of the bible that surrounds it, has feet of clay.

kilo papa said...

danielo, have you burned any unblemished goat testicles as a "sweet odor" to your Lord,lately? Perhaps you should burn some for yourself. Maybe the fumes will clear your warped mind.

Anonymous said...

kilo papa-

Would you mind pointing to something specific I've said that gives you the notion my min is warped? I mean it when I say something specific. I'd like you to quote something I've said that supports your little thesis.

Anonymous said...


I'm more worried about the truth cause than any anti-anything cause. After all, anti-theism is no less dogmatic and fraught with naivety and misinformation than the anti-atheism cause.

I Am said...

danielo, you admit that portions of the Bible may not be divinely inspired, i.e. that the "word of God" as it has been transmitted to us is likely not always God's word.

Here are a few questions for people with a critical academic bent to consider:

* If I told you that entire passages from the sources you cited (Mullen, Gnuse, etc.) have likely been changed, made up, or lost forever — and that it might be impossible to determine which remaining passages are authentic and which aren't — would you consider the works to be reliable representations of the author? Would you cite from them in a peer-reviewed article with a clear conscience, or would you be obligated to leave these sources out of your published works or heavily footnote any mentions of them as being of doubtful origin or authenticity?

* How is the Bible different from the above scenario? You seem to be saying that your argument to a non-believing scholar would be "I want you to accept my assertions, but I fully admit that I cannot vouch for the authenticity or veracity of large portions of the Bible." Since the word "embarrass" keeps coming up, wouldn't you be embarrassed to rely on such a source with a non-biblical coleague?

* Given your admission that passages may not be God's inspired word, I would think you would need to take at best an agnostic approach to the Bible: passages may be conveying what God wanted, or they may not. We don't know, and may never know. Would you agree with this?

* Would you recommend to someone in search of a religion to believe something that may or may not be what God wants them to believe? In some passages of the Bible (which may or may not be inspired by God), God seems to be rather wrathful towards those who worship him incorrectly, even if deviating in seemingly insignificant ways at times. With such stakes, I would think it'd be best to get one's academic and religious ducks in a row before trying to convince someone of something I can't verify myself.

* Why doesn't God inspire a new generation of believers, in an age where information can be transmitted more reliably, to write a more trustworthy text that could be cited high and low with your head high? Or for that matter, in response to a comment you made: why wouldn't God himself come out with an official version you could confidently cite( e.g. "The King of Kings Version", © 2009 Yahweh)?

Otherwise, with the Bible as-is, you might be able to corroborate some, or even many, historical facts from the Bible, but never the bigger and most important picture: whether the God of the Bible exists as described in the Bible. You will never truly be able to convince anyone of this except by asking them to take a leap of faith not supported by the facts.

If people want to take that leap of faith, that's their prerogative; I just don't think such an academically unjustified leap should be hidden behind a misleading semblance of academic legitimacy. "We just don't know, and given the quality of the texts left to us, there's a high probability we never will" would seem to be the right response to give, correct?

Anonymous said...

I Am-

* Textual criticism is concerned with reconstructing the original text, and it goes on in all literature. With contemporary academic literature, however, that's rarely a problem. If you could give me a reason to think any of these texts were corrupt I'd have to look into it before citing them, but they're not corrupt.

* The Bible is not different from the above scenario, but we can confidently reconstruct large portions of the text, and archaeology and cognate literature allows us to assign degrees of historicity to much of the text. No, I'm not embarrassed, and I don't have this problem when dealing with "non-biblical" scholars. They're aware of the same issues as me. I'm not dealing with scholars on this blog, though, I'm dealing with people with little to no real experience with biblical scholarship.

* I have stated elsewhere on this blog that my professional approach to the Bible is an agnostic one.

* I wouldn't recommend a person searching for religion rely on the academy or the authority of the Bible. Spirituality is not predicated upon scholarship, but on spirituality. Someone should try to develop a relationship with God, not the Bible.

* Because religion isn't about having a perfect Bible, it's about having a relationship with God.

* Faith has nothing to do with academics.

Seth said...

Looks like steve wells doesn't have a damn thing to say now does he?